Why Does My Dog Lick the Air?

We’ve all seen it – our dogs sitting there licking the air. It’s a bizarre behavior that can leave us wondering what on earth they’re doing. But as it turns out, there may be some logic behind this strange behavior after all.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons why your dog may be air-licking and what you can do to help them stop.

why does my dog lick the air
Why does my dog lick the air?

So if you’re curious about this odd habit of your furry friend, let’s take a closer look at this quirky canine habit; read on to find out more!

What is Air Licking? 

Air licking is when a dog licks the air, usually without making contact with anything else. It’s usually done in short bursts of multiple licks at a time, hence its other name—the “flehmen response”—which means to curl the upper lip. This behavior is also seen in other animals, such as horses and cats, so it’s not limited to just dogs. 

Chow Chow looks at her owner
A Chow Chow with tongue out looks at her owner.

Normal Causes Why Your Dog May Be Licking Air

Have you ever seen your dog licking the air? If so, you’re not alone. It’s typical behavior in dogs that is often misunderstood.

There are several specific reasons your pup may be licking the air, which can help to understand why they do it. Let’s take a look at some of the possible explanations for this behavior. 

Hunger or Anticipation 

One possible explanation for why some dogs lick the air is because they are hungry or excited about getting food. This could be accompanied by barking, whining, or other signs of excitement like jumping and running around.

French Bulldog tongue out
French Bulldog looking up with a tongue out.

This behavior is often caused by the activation of digestive enzymes that get released when they anticipate food. In these cases, it is important to ensure your dog has eaten enough and isn’t just begging for treats! 

Thirsty Mouth 

Another potential cause of licking the air could be thirst-related. Dogs have glands in their mouths that become activated when they start to feel thirsty and will secrete saliva to moisten their mouths.

dog wears clothing on bike basket
The dog wears clothing on bike basket and looks thirsty.

When this happens, they may begin licking their lips as a sign of thirst or even start licking the air if their mouth feels dry. So make sure your pup always has access to fresh water throughout the day!   

Sticky Foods 

Have you ever seen your dog licking the air when you give them something gooey like peanut butter or ice cream to eat? That’s because dogs enjoy savoring even the stickiest of treats! But, of course, this could be because it sticks to their mouth and tongue, causing them to lick in an attempt to clean off their snout from whatever was left behind from their treat!

different peanut butter
Different peanut butter for your puppy.

Scratching Out-of-Reach Areas 

Dogs may also lick the air when you scratch them in a place they can’t reach, like on their back, if they cannot twist around enough. But, again, this behavior mimics what would happen if they were able to directly access these areas with their tongue and teeth, allowing them to enjoy the sensation just as much as if they were actually licking themselves.  

Labrador Retriever with owners
Labrador Retriever with the owners at the park.

Flehmen Response 

What appears to be licking may be a response called “Flehmen.” This occurs when a dog pushes up and curls back its upper lip while wrinkling its nose to expose its vomeronasal organ (also known as Jacobson’s organ).

Pom-Tzu close up
A close up photo of Pomeranian-Shih Tzu breed.

It allows them to take in full smells of an area or item – usually biological odors like urine, blood, etc. – which helps them identify what’s around them better than with just vision alone!  

Abnormal Causes Why Your Dog May Be Licking Air

Air licking can be a sign of stress, anxiety, confusion, or attention-seeking behavior. Let’s look at some of the unnatural causes of licking and how to address them

Chihuahua looks worried
Chihuahua looks worried with his tongue out.

Behavioral Causes for Licking 

When feeling disoriented, concerned, or anxious, your pup may lick the air as a sign of distress. For instance, canines who are afraid of storms may become anxious and start licking when they feel something is potentially dangerous.

It may also be a sign that your pup is experiencing separation anxiety if they repeatedly lick the air while you’re away from home. If this is the case, it’s essential to work with your vet or animal behaviorist to develop an appropriate treatment plan for your pup. 

Attention-Seeking Behavior 

Dogs can display attention-seeking behavior through any action. If you react positively or negatively to your pup’s licking, either positively or negatively, they will take note and adjust their behavior accordingly.

If a pup is craving your attention, it may never tire from lavishing you with licks – even if there’s no response on your part! Some dogs can see this behavior as an attempt to gain and maintain undivided focus.

Compulsive Disorders 

Due to a psychological disorder, dogs may exhibit compulsive behavior, such as licking the air. Compulsive disorders involve recurring patterns of action that remain consistent in their delivery. Though their purpose remains unclear, some suggest that these seemingly unnecessary actions might help ease a dog’s anxiety.

In these cases, it’s best to have your pup evaluated by an animal behaviorist who can develop an individualized treatment plan which could include medication and behavioral modifications based on environmental factors such as lack of exercise or social interaction.  

Medical Reasons Why a Dog May Be Air Licking

Air licking is a common behavior in dogs and can be caused by several medical reasons. Let’s look at some of the most common medical reasons that could be causing your pup to air lick.

Chihuahua tongue is out
Chihuahua with a rolled tongue.


Seizures can cause involuntary muscle spasms that may manifest as air licking. If your pup has a seizure disorder, it may display other symptoms before or after an episode, such as dilated pupils, drooling, disorientation, and confusion. If your pup has repeated seizures or experiences one that lasts longer than five minutes, it’s best to seek immediate veterinary attention. 


Nausea can also cause air licking in dogs due to their attempts at self-soothing their queasy stomachs. Common causes of nausea in dogs are:

  • Dietary indiscretion or changes in diet
  • Eating too quickly
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Pancreatitis
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Ingestion of toxins or foreign bodies

If the nausea is mild and your dog has no other concerning symptoms like lethargy or vomiting, you should consider offering smaller meals more frequently to ease their discomfort. However, if the symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, you should consult your veterinarian for further evaluation and treatment options. 

Dental Disease

Dental diseases like periodontal disease can cause pain in the mouth which might lead dogs to lick various surfaces in an effort at self-soothing, which is why it’s important to brush your dog’s teeth regularly when possible.

Skin Problems

Skin problems such as allergies or other irritations can also cause your pup to frequently lick their lips or flick their tongues without taking anything into their mouths—this behavior is known as air licking too! If you think your pup might have allergies or other skin issues, make sure to get, them checked out by the vet so they can properly diagnose and treat the problem before it gets worse.  

Inflammatory Bowel Disease 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is another condition that can cause dogs to air lick. IBD causes inflammation in the intestines, leading to pain and discomfort when eating or drinking, leading to frequent lip licks and tongue flicks without actually consuming anything. If you think your pup might have IBD, it’s essential to get them checked out by the vet for diagnosis and treatment.  

Cognitive Dysfunction

One of the most common but less widely known signs of canine cognitive dysfunction is air licking: dogs that appear to be licking at an invisible surface. Air licking can occur when the dog appears to be in a trance-like state or when they experience extreme stress and anxiety due to confusion.

The behavior usually worsens over time as the dog’s condition progresses. It can also lead to other signs of distress, such as incessant barking or pacing. Suppose you notice your dog exhibiting this behavior.

In that case, it is vital to bring them in for a veterinary evaluation to rule out any other conditions that may be causing these changes in behavior.

What Should I Do if My Dog Is Licking Air?

If you’ve ever noticed your pup licking the air, it can be quite concerning to watch. First, consider if there is any food residue or other items they might be finding tasty nearby. If not, the air licking may indicate a medical condition such as poor digestion or GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).

dog walks with owner
A dog walks with owner on the road.

Your pup may also be licking the air because of boredom or anxiety, so providing ample exercise, playtime, and mental stimulation would be beneficial. If all else fails, consult your veterinarian for further advice and testing.


Air licking is not always an indication of something serious. Still, it’s important that you take note when it happens so that you can observe whether any other concerning symptoms arise over time. Paying close attention will help ensure that if there is a potential underlying issue, it gets addressed promptly before leading to more serious health problems.

With proper veterinary care, most conditions causing air licking can be treated effectively, so there’s no need for alarm — schedule an appointment with your vet right away if anything seems off about your pup’s behavior!